(There may be a Part 2,
but this is not the poem
I’m supposed to be working on.)
This Saturday, September 8, was
the New Jersey Randonneurs’ NYC 200K.
SEVEN A.M., GW bus station:
the kickoff for a randonneur migration
that spun to Jersey over the long bridge,
the Palisades a picket fence, a ridge
of misty treeline on the other side.
This short brevet’s our final summer ride
despite it being technically the fall.
Compared to centuries, our group is small
(200, 300, 600K
will tend to scare the casual away,
on top of which, our questionable sport
requires that all riders “self-support,”
which means we have to buy or carry food
and tools and weather clothing changes. Dude—
we’re not even allowed to have a friend
drive near the route in case we need to mend
a broken spoke or seatpost, or whatever.
If you don’t have the wrench or tire lever,
and you can’t get it squared away and roll,
then you won’t make it to the next controle—
our fancy name for checkpoints—by the time
required on your cue sheet, and well, I’m
quite sorry, but that means you’ve DNF’d
(that’s “Did Not Finish”), so there’s nothing left
but (if the bike is ridable) then biking
to something that’s nearby and to your liking:
hotel, ride start, friend’s house, commuter rail,
or hoping some kind driver might avail
you of a lift to get you on your way.)
So anyhow, our ride this Saturday
was called the NYC 200K,
130 miles of brevet
through all the hills in Harriman State Park,
and Sterling, plus Bear Mountain, Kanawauke
or Kanawaukee—how is it prounounced?
At any rate, my bicycle announced
that it (like you) considered us insane
by noisy failure of its new drivetrain
before we’d even crossed over the bridge,
my water bottles still cold from the fridge.
“I don’t mean to be antisocial…” said
the guy I’d chatted with, pulling ahead.
(I have, myself, prefaced exeunts that way.)
“Later!” I called, and limped out of the fray
at 7:10. The rules give us thirteen
and one-half hours til we must convene
at arrivée (the last controle—it’s French),
but this repair’s way past my means to wrench.
But there’s a bike shop, and although the clock
is ticking, it’s my only chance. The lock
is set; the shop will open up at eight.
There’s nothing to be done but stand and wait,
and watch the other riders gliding by
in twos and threes, conversing, as I try
to know I know time can’t be overcranked,
and not assume I’ve been, just yet, outflanked.
An open basement door invites my knock,
so hoping not to wait til eight o’clock,
I tell the bike mechanic my snafu,
but then he asks his boss, who tells me, “You
are gonna have to wait, because I’ve got
two bikes to finish by eight on the dot.”
“And then at eight—?” “We’ll get you out of here.”
“OK,” I say, and “Thanks,” and stand right near
the glass front door, hoping that if he sees a
guy blatantly holding up a VISA,
perhaps the clock will speed up and the door
will open somewhat sooner than before.
I watch the time count down, and watch the speed
required to make the first controle exceed
the fastest that I’ve ever done this run.
There’s still a narrow chance; quite slim; soon none.
He lets me in at three minutes to eight.
They take a look. It needs new rings. “So—great!
Lets go!” “Looks like we’ve only got a center.”
“That’s fine—I’ll take it.” And so as I enter
my PIN number, downstairs descends my ride.
8:22, I clip back in, outside.
8:23 I’m back out on the route
and pumping North, but seriously doubt
that I can make it to the first controle
in time. I’m very deeply in the hole.
(For me, that is. I’m not a front-of-pack
performer; I ride staunchly near the back,
one eye on how much time cushion I’ve got,
which generally speaking’s not a lot.)
And look at that—the chain drops when I shift
onto the biggest ring. I would be miffed,
except the way I’ve learned to fix a drop
while riding works; it settles back on top.
The big’s iffy, but fixable. The middle–
it’s not great, but it holds. That leaves the little,
and since I might quit now if it won’t climb,
I leave that testing for another time,
Back on the big ring now, I hit the gas.
I’m passed by two for every twelve I pass.
The well-paced rando ride has gone away,
replaced by one long sprint of 50K
which—even if I pedal my whole butt off–
will probably not end before the cutoff.
But there are far worse ways to spend a day,
than throwing yourself onto a brevet.
So “On your left,” and “on your left,” and “On
your left,” and “On your left,” and on and on,
the weekend boys don’t like it when I burn
right past them, and then beat them to the turn
where all of them shoot North, but I go straight.
I wasn’t racing, boys, just running late
by seventy-two minutes. All this booking
is ’cause I’ve got no choice. My quads are cooking,
by which I don’t mean “fast”; I mean they’re frying.
The only way I’ll make it is by dying
on Leg 1 of the course—which means Leg 2,
I’m really not sure what I’m going to do.
But one thing at a time. Step 1: Go hard,
hope all those hill repeats turned enough lard
to muscle that my power beats my weight,
so leave it on the road, man. Flip off fate–
since this would be the third blog entry pining
a failed attempt, with funny silver lining.
Fuck that. I’m tired of writing those. Hell NO.
Just burn the whole damn tank. Use it all.
Controle 1’s Stony Point. I make it there
with twelve full minutes somehow left to spare,
and give in to a few satisfied smiles,
but next I have to ride 91 miles
and all the climbing starts in just a few,
when “Welcome to Bear Mountain” comes in view.
But one thing at a time, so nice work, dude—
but nothing here should tell you you’re not screwed.
Although it’s true this victory is sweet,
you now will have to climb nine thousand feet
with time constraints. Your plans have come apart.
You’ll have to compensate by being smart,
so give yourself three minutes and remount,
because on a brevet, the rest stops count
against your time, so don’t discard a second,
and do while rolling anything you reckon
you don’t need two hands for, like eating, math
for necessary speed along the path…
and when the road tilts upward, recommit.
This is the real ride about to hit.